I think this Maria Bustillos piece is a good distillation of the fuss that’s kicked up between Lowery (whose music I have paid for many, many times, including at least twice in concert) and NPR intern Emily White; which really isn’t a fuss but more one created by a music press looking for a flashpoint.
As someone who spends the equivalent of about one paycheck a year on live and recorded music (and that exempts anything purchased on iTunes as well as my Spotify and Pandora subscriptions), this is still something I battle with, particularly as someone who tried to make a living with my music and did not succeed (not that I tried for very long; reality and student loans kicked in).
There is a real problem with the services we enjoy and pay for short-changing the people creating the actual content — and it’s hard for me to buy that people wouldn’t pay more a month to increase that ratio. I would happily increase my $10 to $30 a month if that’s what it took to ensure that musicians got a humane share (and maybe even more than that!) I suspect much of it is the tech mentality of paying the folks at the top too much in stock while shortchanging the people who make the content you are trading in and Lowery isn’t wrong to see it as another tech bubble.
Where Lowery is particularly dead on is the contradiction of how much we’ll pay for the access to the product as compared to the product itself. My yearly wireless bill + yearly online music service subscription cost = about what I spend a year on physical copies of music and concert tickets, and while you have to take into account that the former is about communication more than listening to music, the equation still feels wrong even though I’m paying my share.
On the other hand, I also believe that the field of artists hoping to make a full-time living off their work is probably overcrowded; music attracts quite a number of dilettantes and dabblers. Some of them turn into stars, others into lower-level, sustainable performers, and some never expand beyond their small circle. I think we do have problems in trying to distinguish the musician who “should” be earning a living wage and able to provide for his/her family because that kind of artistic merit is inherently subjective — and frankly, I don’t want to be the arbiter or who should and who shouldn’t be able to make a decent living from his or her art.
At the very least, American society does need to examine its backward attitude toward artists and what art deserves — this is part of the problem with the Internet’s “musical revolution” because we can’t have it until we have an honest discussion about how we value art. The problem is that Internet wave became so big because people were totally being bilked for CDs to the tune of $18 a pop with a distinct lack of quality control but the Internet’s change to focus on singles wasn’t a solution.